Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Afghanistan: In or Out?

George Will is so convinced that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, that he comes close to complimenting President Obama:1
On July 24, 2008, in Berlin, Obama stressed the need to "defeat the Taliban." Then, however, he spoke as a "citizen of the world," not as president. Now he is being presidential by reconsidering some implications of the politically calculated rhetoric that helped make him president. He is rightly ignoring those who cannot distinguish thinking from dithering....

Whatever strategy Obama adopts, its success cannot depend on America teaching Afghans to [elect good men]. If he is looking for a strategy that depends on legitimacy in Kabul, he is looking for a unicorn.
Here, Will is correct - Karzai's removed any doubt about how he is going to run Afghanistan, or at least those portions under which he (backed by the U.S. military) actually exercises control, and his priorities are quite different from ours. We cannot afford to hope that Karzai and Afghanistan's government somehow magically reform themselves, and a strategy that depends upon that hope is doomed to fail. (One wonders why it took some people seven years to figure that out, but there you go.)

Remember, back in the day, when the neocons were describing themselves as wanting to move away from realpolitik? How they wanted to build real nations, with real, functional, honest governments, and not simply replace one tyrant with another who was more willing to bend to the will of the U.S.? Is anybody still trying to advance that argument? If so, where can I find an example of their putting that into practice? Isn't it the paleocons who have more consistently advocated against military adventurism, the notion that governments can be magically replaced with U.S.-friendly regimes that are also competent, ethical and democratic? Sneering that the paleocons would install somebody like, you know, Karzai doesn't work so well when it's the neocons who most want U.S. soldiers to shed blood to keep him in power. And when it comes to backing traditional U.S. values, such as the ethical treatment of prisoners captured by the military, once again don't the paleocons have the moral high ground?

Turn the page and see exactly what I mean. Yet another unsigned editorial from Fred Hiatt's editorial board, insisting that we back Karzai:
As President Obama pointedly noted in recognizing Mr. Karzai's reelection a day earlier, "the proof is not going to be in words. It's going to be in deeds." True enough -- but it's also the case that the direction of Mr. Karzai's deeds is going to depend to a large degree on whether he believes he can depend on the United States, its forces and especially its president to back him up.
That's true, but not in the sense the editorial intends. Backed in the manner the Post demands, Karzai will continue to be corrupt and self-dealing, unconcerned with establishing a competent, stable government, and unconcerned with the consequences of electoral corruption that demolish our effort to nudge his nation toward democracy. Isn't that the lesson of the past seven years?
Senior envoys such as Vice President Biden have quarreled with him in private, even as Mr. Obama has held Karzai at arm's length in public. This might have made some sense if there were an alternative to Mr. Karzai. But there is none.
Well, um, yeah, there are alternatives. Sure, Bush and Cheney squandered most of the good ones, and even toyed around with a bad one, but no question there are alternatives.

A fair question, what does Karzai actually bring to the table? He undermines our effort to democratize Afghanistan. He undermines our effort to establish good governance. He happily enriches himself at the expense of his people, aligns himself with warlords and Taliban leaders... Is it enough that he looks good on camera? That he presumably pledged his pliance to the Bush Administration? Karzai depends upon useful idiots like Hiatt, always willing to give him "another chance" because "there aren't any alternatives", rather than insisting that he demonstrate that he's worthy of another chance.

But more to the point, how can Hiatt's and his crew, or any neocon, argue in support of the perpetual, unquestioning support of Karzai without admitting that their concerns about establishing good governance in troubled or lawless nations were a fiction? Because here's the rub: If you truly want an Afghanistan that is less tribal, less radical, less fundamentalist, at least tolerant of women's rights, you need to do a lot better than Karzai. Hoping that he'll change, or not even hoping but insisting that he's our Obi-Wan Kenobi,2 is unlikely to turn out any better than Russia's experiment with Mohammad Najibullah.

I hate to harp on this, but if the best strategy we can come up with for Afghanistan is to prop up Karzai and significantly expand our military presence in order to just tread water, with no strategy for success or even a concept of what success will look like,3 we're not doing favors to anyone... Well, except Karzai. I would detest a future for Afghanistan that involved a resurgent Taliban, but it's unrealistic to expect that the U.S. will tread water indefinitely.
1. Ever since Clinton's election, Will's had something of a pathological need to insult Democrats; even, or perhaps especially, when he criticizes Republicans, he traditionally makes sure to suggest that the Democrats are nonetheless worse.

2. "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're our only hope."

3. The "Groundhog Day" approach.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe I should have left the spam comment in place... A spammer from India who didn't quite grasp what the post was about, and thought this was some sort of "in or out" list - like I was treating Afghanistan as a fashion accessory.


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